My Microsoft a-ha! moment came not with the surprise Surface Duo Android phone, nor with the two-screened Surface Neo, but when Microsoft unfolded the wraparound keyboard accessory that shipped with its dual-screen Neo prototype.

Why? Because tapping on glass loses its appeal beyond banging out a quick text message. Actual work requires a keyboard with travel, in much the same way that we wear comfortable, cushioned shoes for walking or running. The Neo’s keyboard is emblematic of what Microsoft is trying to achieve: flexibility.

We’ve previously told you what microprocessor diversity means for Microsoft, as well as its chip partners Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel. What we thought then was that Qualcomm would enable all-day battery life (which emerged as the Surface Pro X), AMD would pump up the Surface’s graphics firepower (the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3), and Intel would power, well everything else. What we missed was Intel’s Lakefield, the compact, stacked-chip architecture which we already knew would be the foundation of dual-screen displays. That, of course, became the Surface Neo, Microsoft’s dual-screen device.

Microsoft Surface Neo tablet  >  Windows devices Microsoft

Use the Surface Neo however you want.

You don’t use chips, though. You use devices. What those four different chip platforms enable—and not just for Microsoft, but for every other PC maker too—is the ability to design in different computing modalities for different people, something we’ve seen Microsoft strive for in the past.

Modalities—the different ways in which users interact with Windows and other Microsoft services—is Microsoft’s stock in trade. Some people prefer a desktop. Others, a traditional clamshell laptop. Tablets appeal to others. Microsoft tried and failed to make Windows Phones a thing, but ultimately decided to use apps and services as a proxy to push users back within the Microsoft fold. 

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But those are hardware. While the PC space has wrestled with form factor, Microsoft has quietly evolved Windows beyond a mouse-and-keyboard-driven interface into one that can be interacted with via voice, touch, ink, holograms, a game controller, and even your eyes. Microsoft designed some of these—eye tracking, for example—as “assistive” technologies for the disabled. But we all benefit. These different Windows modalities are Microsoft’s stock in trade. 

Microsoft Surface Neo tablet  >  Windows devices Microsoft

Why? Because people work in different ways. Microsoft provides a command line not just for coders, but for users who appreciate fine-grained control over their operating system. Why do people become so irritated with new Windows feature updates? Well, there are the inopportune update times, but once an update breaks the way in which a user goes about their day, it becomes a source of frustration. It breaks the “flow” that Microsoft’s chief Panos Panay so often talks about.

This brings us back to the Surface Neo, and to some extent, the Surface Duo as well. Two-in-1s have evolved beyond clamshells, providing alternative ways of viewing and interacting with information: tent mode, for example. Dual screens are the evolutionary next step, even if—and this is important—even if they’re not for everyone.



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